Marshall notebook: Combs showing versatility on line
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - After proving in the spring that he can play the role of "iron man," Tyler Combs is being tried in a different role by the Marshall coaching staff.
Combs, a 6-foot-4, 284-pound freshman from Louisa, Ky., found himself playing center in March and April as starter Chris Jasperse was limited and backup Cam Dees was sidelined. After a shaky start, Combs did well enough to lose that "rookie" stripe from his helmet.
He's taking a snap here and there in the morning shift of this week's split practices, but the majority of his reps are coming at left tackle.
Why is that? A look at the depth chart yields a clue - Gage Niemeyer and Jordan Jeffries, battling at that position, are both seniors. Junior Josh Lovell can move from left guard, where he is going against Sebastian Johansson, if need be.
But at some point the future is going to arrive - optimally next year, but maybe sooner. Then what?
"We don't have a guy right now, today, that I can put my finger on who is ready to walk in and play left tackle without shuffling the whole line," said offensive coordinator Bill Legg. "First and foremost, Josh Lovell is either going to be starting, or the first guy off the bench some place, but he's going to play. He can play left tackle and he can play left guard - but that's hard.
"The more you put on a guy's plate, the harder it becomes because the techniques are different, assignments are different."
So Legg and company aren't eager to drag guard Alex Schooler and tackle Garrett Scott from the right side. Thus the experiment with Combs, who was earmarked for tackle when he entered the program.
"We are trying like crazy, because Cam Dees is back and healthy," Legg said. "Now we've got another freshman center [Cody Collins] that walked in the door. When we recruited Tyler, we knew he could be a center if he had to become a center, but we thought he had a shot at being a tackle.
"We didn't get to find that out in spring, so now we want to try to find that out - can he play tackle, or do we need to put him at center and guard and just leave him there?"
Speaking of tackles, don't expect Sandley Jean-Felix to crack the starting lineup this fall, but he certainly stands out among his peers.
He is 6-5, 321, and those aren't his most impressive features. Let's put it this way: When he gets the technique down, defensive ends are going to have to run a half-marathon to get around him.
The man has some long, long arms. In fact, Legg called him a bigger, long-armed version of 6-5, 310-pound Garrett Scott.
Scott has heard that, but he can't get past that wingspan (regrettably, nobody knew that measurement Tuesday). "Never seen arms like that. They're as long as the goal post." Scott said.
Jean-Felix likely won't follow Scott's accelerated footsteps - the latter debuted as a true freshman in 2010. Jean-Felix has a long way to go at a technique-heavy tackle spot (for now, he is on the right side).
"Is he raw? Yeah, he's a still a colt, a baby giraffe, whatever term you want to use," Legg said. "He's still out there a little bit, and everything's new. Stance is new, footwork's new, contact, how we punch is new. Everything's new for him, so it's like learning a foreign language from scratch.
"You watch him move, you watch him bend, a guy that size, you watch him twist, you see his legs, and he's a tough kids that works hard. It's only a matter of time, I believe. It's not if, it's when."
Quarterback Rakeem Cato's 160-pound freshman days are becoming more and more of a distant memory. Nowadays, he's noticeably bulked up, and he's throwing the ball around with much more zip.
It seems he's starting to throw his weights around in the nearby weight room.
"Here's a kid that came in at 160-some pounds that now weights 192, give or take a little bit," Legg said. "He's squatting 415, 420, 425 [pounds]. He'd have probably benched 300 if we'd let him, because he did 280 for two [reps] really easy. Who cares what a quarterback benches, right?
"But it is important from a strength standpoint, his upper body and being able to take a hit. He's good about not taking hits, but everybody takes a hit once in a while."
CBS Sports Network has moved the kickoff time for Marshall's Nov. 2 home game against Southern Miss to noon.
With that, the Herd plays its final three home games at noon, including Nov. 9 against Alabama-Birmingham and the Nov. 29 finale against East Carolina. One earlier home game, the Oct. 5 battle with Texas-San Antonio, has a 2 p.m. start. The first two home games, against Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb, are 7 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. starts.
Conversely, four road games are scheduled to kick off no earlier than 5 p.m. Times for Virginia Tech (Sept. 21) and Florida International (Nov. 23) have not been set.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.